Blog Post

The School within a School Model, Developing Success Pathways for all Students

by | Mar 18, 2021 | Educator Interviews

Public Schools are filled with Innovative educators and leaders.  In this interview, Aaron Churchill speaks with Julia Sleeper-Whiting, Executive Director of the Tree Street Youth Center and Jake Langlais, Superintendent of the Lewiston Public Schools.  In this conversation we hear how two leaders developed a professional rapport based on  a mutual passion for young people to succeed.  Both have a deep respect for the importance of young people “co-creating processes to tackle complicated issues.”  Together they designed and created a vision for a model for a school that offered the structures of an academic model from the formal district education model responding to the academic and social and emotional challenges faced by a segment of the student population. Together they formed The Next Step High which focuses on developing a success pathway for students who have been “off-track or disengaged.”  This school within a school empowers  students to make an impact on their world by creating a dynamic learning environment based on mutual respect for identity and aspiration.

Julie and Jake discuss the difficulties the faced trying to introduce this program into the rigidity of the typical district system.  Hours of pleading with district heads, school boards and budgeting authorities made the process a formidable to say the least.  Their persistence was productive. The two leaders describe their evolution as leaders. Their willingness to speak truth to power, to trust their teachers and to work the system flourished because of an iterative learning process.  Ultimately this structure of mutual learning produced  this remarkably successful project.  Not only has Next STEP High thrived, but some of the tactics for success are now used in the district school.

This conversation raises two questions for Maine education leaders and legislators:

Why is innovation made so difficult when new ideas flourish?

What can Maine be doing to incentivize more district models of schools within schools to further advance learning options for students?